When I first designed Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic almost ten years ago, music publishing was a side of the music business about which even many major record label executives knew embarrassingly little. Today, the music publishing model is in many ways the foundation of the music business—an industry built on licensing rights, rather than selling physical product. Every band wants their song in a commercial or a video game; every investment company wants to own a collection of classic songs. To enter the music business today without a knowledge of music publishing is to be missing an essential source of income. More importantly, it’s means that you’re missing a source of income that continues to grow, even as the record business continues to contract.
As we head into September, there’s no better time to take the plunge and enter into the world of music publishing. Music Publishing 101 is a step by step walk through the process of starting your own publishing venture—it’s designed so that by the end of the course, you’ll be positioned to hit the ground running in the music publishing biz. Best of all, you’ll be learning from people who are industry veterans—not only myself, but people like my buddy Jon Bonci, who teach the course.
Jon Bonci started out as a songwriter and eventually went on to work in some of the top companies in the music industry. As a young songwriter, after building a recording studio in his parents’ house, Jon decided he wanted to be more involved in the music business. This led him to get a job at a record company answering phones. From there, a music business weasel was born– he went on to work at Warner Chappell Music as an archivist and tape room manager, and later worked at BMG Music Publishing and Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc. He is currently working in music supervising for ESPN and teaching the Music Publishing 101 class. In this blog, Jorge Oliveres, my Berklee College of Music intern, asks Jon for his insight about the course.
What are the main things students will learn about in Music Publishing 101?
It’s different for each student. Certain students don’t know a thing about music publishing, others are in a band and they want to learn more about it. Then there are those who have known about it and want to learn as much as they can and use it to the best of their advantage. Having a variety of students is nice because we get different viewpoints when we discuss things on the chats.
Last semester I had someone doing artist management. I told him that the more he knows about music publishing, the better. If you are an artist manager, or if you’re managing a house and band comes in, you can actually cherry pick bands and manage them, get them a record deal, and if you know enough about music publishing, possibly act as their publisher as well. Knowledge is power. If you want to work in artist management, you’re going to have to know everything: not just on the record label side, but also on the music publishing side. For people in all different parts of the music world, this class will come in very handy.
I was going to ask you if there is a typical Music Publishing 101 student but from what you are telling me, it sounds like the students are pretty diverse.
I’ll have a kid who is 21 years old, at the same time that I have people who are in their 60’s. That’s what’s great about teaching online. Anyone can access what Berklee has to offer, anywhere they are in the world. As a publisher, one of the biggest kicks I have is setting up collaborations. If I can put people together who like each other enough to be friends the rest of their life, even if they never write a song, then I think it’s a big success. A lot of times things come from collaboration–songwriters might end up enjoying each other’s company or helping each other out with their music. You never know where it can lead. If students in the class write similarly to each other, I tell them they should get together and work over the phone or the computer. We do quite a bit with an online class.
Often, songwriters take the class because they want to know about music publishing. Having been a music publisher myself, I know that a publisher is supposed to be more like the businessperson who is a step away from the songs. When you’re a songwriter, you think that every song you just wrote is the best song in the world… until you write the next one. It’s interesting to teach students to be as objective as they can about their music, to see how it holds up against what’s out there.
If you’re going to pitch a song to a music supervisor or to an A&R person, you only get one shot. Those people learn right away whether or not you have ears. If they let you come back again and you keep giving them what they don’t want, they’ll say, “This guy is a songwriter, he is too close the music, and he doesn’t really know what’s what.” You have to be objective about your music because you only get one shot to make a first impression.
So students will really get an idea of what publishers look for when they listen to songs…
You get placed on both sides of the desk: the writer’s side and the publisher’s side.
It’s a great class, it’s well mapped out, and when you read Eric’s writing he almost has the same voice as I do: he’s got a really good sense of humor, he’s frank, he’s upfront, he’s candid, he tells it like it is. It’s been a real pleasure dealing with the class. And Berklee has just been fantastic. Berklee is the kind of school that you just say the word and it opens doors for people. I tell that to my students as well: if the first thing you mention when you are trying to get a job somewhere is that you are a student at Berklee, it’s going to help you. It’s prestigious.
Because the class is online and you can have people from all over the world, does it deal with music publishing at an international level?
Yes. Eric has worked hard to give the class a strong international perspective. For example, in some countries the society that handles performing rights also handles mechanical royalty income, whereas in the United States everything is separated out. Also, we have three societies here for performance rights whereas most countries just have one. This leaves people there with no choice; they have to go with what they have. I actually had a student in the Middle East from a country where they don’t have a performance rights society set up. She wanted to know how she could set something like that up herself.
Now is a time of constant change for the music industry. How does the class help students keep up with those changes?
Since we really don’t know where the music business is going, having an online class is good because it can constantly be updated. For example, when the ruling came down on the new royalty rates for streaming and digital downloads, Eric put that within the course work as well. You get the best of both worlds in the class; you get a class that is constantly being tweaked by people who are in the industry every day.
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